Anna Settman, CEO of the largest printed newspaper in Sweden, told the INMA World Congress on Monday that despite Aftonbladet’s large print circulation, the newspaper could still make a profit without it.

Aftonbladet is published on every platform and reaches an audience of about 2.6 million readers every day. The “media house,” as Settman referred to it, reported a 12% profit last year and $15 million in revenue.

Aftonbladet has 150,000 digital subscribers now, but Settman said the organisation wasn’t always stable.

After debuting a Web site in 1994, Aftonbladet created a steady revenue from advertisers. Then the dot-com bubble burst, and Web sites and advertising exploded into popularity.

Aftenbladet saw 80% of its Internet advertisers disappear almost overnight. Aftonbladet learned quickly from the burst to find revenue outside of banner ads, Settman said.

The organisation then did what newspapers still debate. They began to charge for content, created a Web site for classified ads, and bought an online search engine.

“With this strategy, we took a giant step forward to the digital area,” Settman said.

In 2009, Aftonbladet began to consider itself a media house with a print edition rather than a newspaper with an online version: “When we changed the focus from circulation to reach, we were able to make the transformation.” 

For other newspapers starting to prioritise digital, Settman suggested they take advantage of data about readers, much like Google and Facebook do with their users. Newspapers need to understand their audience beyond what they want to see in print content.

“They collect data, and we’re still sitting around and wondering what to do with it,” she said.

The most important thing a company can do, though, is prepare employees for change: “The only way of finding new revenues is to have everyone in the organisation look for them.”